Bird watching can bring hours of pleasure and enjoyment to people of all ages. Having birds in your yard is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Attracting even more birds can benefit you because most birds eat insects that you may find to be a nuisance or that may be attacking your plants. It is easy to attract a variety of birds with a few simple steps. There are several things that all birds need:
When attracting birds to your yard, food is often the first thing people think of. The type of food you put out will vary depending on the type of birds you want to attract, what type of feeder you are using, and what time of year it is. You can buy a wild bird blend at your local garden center. This will attract a variety of birds. Cracked corn will attract crows, jays, sparrows, and pheasants; millet will attract mourning doves, juncos, sparrows, and red-winged black birds; black nyger thistle will attract goldfinches, finches, and redpolls; black oil sunflower will attract jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, and more; and peanuts will attract woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and more. Finch and canary blend birdseed will, as the name suggests, attract finches and canaries. You may choose to put out seed all year long or just in the winter if there are lots of other food sources for use in summer and fall. Some birds are not seed eaters and you may help attract them by putting out dried fruit. Be certain that no sugar or other additives have been added to it. In winter, it is especially beneficial for birds to have suet made available to them. The extra fat found in it will aid in the birds survival over winter.
Aside from the type of food you supply, you also need to decide how you will present it to the birds. There are four main types of birdfeeders- hoppers, tubes, platforms, and nectar feeders.
Hoppers are the most common type of feeder and they are generally in the shape of houses. They can be simple or quite decorative depending on the look you desire. They are designed to hold a lot of seed at one time, therefore cutting down the number of times you need to fill them. The top usually opens wide or comes completely off allowing access to the entire seed holding area and making them easy to fill. Since the sides of this type of feeder are generally constructed of Plexiglas, it is usually easy to monitor when it needs filling. This type of feeder can be used by all birds, large or small. They can be mounted on a pole or hung from a tree or shepherd hook. They come in wood, metal and plastic. If you are purchasing one in wood, it should be made of cedar or some other weather resistant-type of wood or wood that has been stained or painted to resist rot. The overhang/roof should completely cover the feeding platform to keep moisture off the seed.
Just as the name suggests, tube feeders are simply long tubes, or cylinders, with perches and holes for feeding up and down the length of it. There are different varieties depending on the type of seed you want to fill it with. Some varieties are designed for upside down feeding and some varieties deter squirrels. Smaller birds are generally attracted to this type of feeder. They are usually made of plastic, but some may be made of wire mesh. This type of feeder is usually easy to monitor to see when it needs refilling, but because they are usually slender they often have to be filled frequently. One thing to watch for when buying a tube feeder is whether or not the seed at the bottom of the tube can be reached by the birds. If not, the feeder is not recommended because the seed can sit there and mould.
A platform feeder is the simplest of all the feeders. It is simply a platform that the bird food sits on. They can be hung, placed on the ground, or mounted on a pole. These types of feeders are not recommended for windy areas. Some may be covered to protect the food from getting wet. Platform feeders should have drainage holes so that any water that accumulates can run off. If not, the seed or food may mould or rot. All types of birds will come to this feeder. If you choose to place your feeder on the ground you may attract other animals. Rabbits, squirrels and other animals will often eat seed that has landed on the ground. Feeding birds from the ground can also attract predators, mainly cats. If you are worried about stray or neighbourhood cats it is best to avoid this method. If you do choose to ground feed, it is a good idea to keep the feeding area at least ten feet away from areas that predators may hide in.
Nectar feeders are used to attract hummingbirds. For more information on this type of feeder and other ways to attract hummingbirds see the How to Attract Hummingbirds section.
To attract the widest variety of birds to your yard you can choose several different feeders and place them throughout your yard. Regardless of the type of feeder that you choose, it is very important to keep it clean. A dirty feeder can spread disease and moulded bird seed can cause birds to get ill. Birds will still eat from a dirty feeder if no other food source is available.
Water is even more crucial than food for attracting birds to your yard. Birds use water to drink and clean themselves in. Dependable water sources can be difficult for birds to find, so a well maintained birdbath should attract many birds to your yard. Even birds that do not feed on the food you have provided will likely visit your bath. If you don’t have a commercial bird bath it is not necessary to buy one if you do not wish to do so. A garbage can lid, shallow baking dish, or similar shaped object can work just as well. Be creative, as many items can hold water.
Place your birdbath in a location that you are able to see easily. It is a good idea to place your birdbath in the shade. This will slow evaporation and bacteria growth. It is also a good idea if there is an area for rest nearby. After taking a bath, birds will usually sit and preen themselves. Birds cannot fly well when they are wet, so having a safe area close by for them to sit and dry will encourage them to continue to visit your bath.
To keep your bath available to birds in the winter, you have to make sure the water does not freeze. You can purchase an immersion style water heater at your local garden center. These are not expensive to run and will encourage birds to visit your bath year-round.
Just like feeders, baths have to be cleaned regularly. Discard old water and refill as often as necessary- every couple of days in the summer and slightly less often in the winter. If any algae are forming, scrub off with a brush and rinse well with hot water.
Birds need shelter to survive. Although many birds can survive with minimal shelter, providing more than adequate areas of protection will entice them to make your yard their home. Birds use shelter to keep them safe, protect them from the weather, and even as an additional food source. There are many different things you can add to your yard to provide shelter for your feathered friends. They can either be natural or artificial.
You may already have natural shelters in your yard, but you might want to add some more. Trees, shrubs, bushes, and grass are all examples of natural shelters. Both deciduous and coniferous trees provide shelter, but it’s best to have both in your yard if possible. Deciduous trees are great sights for nesting and coniferous trees provide year-round shelter. Coniferous and deciduous shrubs are also great shelters and may be a better option for you if you have a small compact yard. All trees and shrubs are great, but those that have small berries can also supply food to the birds. Dead trees can also provide nesting sites for cavity dwelling birds. If your yard allows, try leaving a dead tree standing to attract woodpeckers and owls. If you have deadfall, pile it together with some brush to provide another place for the birds to hide.
Some examples of artificial shelters are houses, barns, decks, and roost boxes, but the one that usually comes to mind first is a bird house. A birdhouse can be very simple or ornamental, but a good birdhouse should meet several requirements-
1) Should be easy to open for cleaning.
2) Should have holes aside from the entry hole for ventilation.
3) Should have a roof that allows for run-off.
4) Should not have a perch (these are not required for cavity nesting birds)
A birdhouse can be mounted on a pole, but it’s best to attach it to a tree if possible. This will mimic the bird’s natural nesting area. Face the entry-way away from prevailing winds- in Manitoba it’s best to face it towards the south or south west. Also make sure that the birds have a clear flight path to the entry-way. In fall, be sure to clean out the old nesting material and plug the ventilation holes for insulation during the upcoming winter months.
If you follow all the tips given previously you should be able to enjoy many years of bird watching!